THAI CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY: SANUK, THAI-NESS, KRENG JAI, JAI YEN AND SOCIAL SMOOTHING

THAI CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY

Thais have been described as easy-going, friendly, self-confident, complacent, polite, laid back, discreet, modest, cheerful, neat, clean, respectful, grateful. obedient, loyal and differential. As is true in other Asian cultures not losing face is important. According to one description: “People move with gentleness and grace. Palms are curled; feet are turned upwards. Even Thai-style boxing is like a ritualized dance.”

Buddhism, which emphasizes gentleness and compliance, is important in defining the Thai character. Describing his people King Bhumibol once he said, "Thais seem to be happy go lucky but are quite strong. Our people are relaxed, not high strung or stiff. They are hospitable—to strangers and to new ideas. The majority are Buddhist—and the Buddhists have never had a holy war. They are polite. Honorable politeness. They have courage but are not harsh—strong but gentle." [Source: Bart McDowell, National Geographic, October 1982]

Michael Patrick Anderson, a teacher who worked in Thailand for some time, wrote in the Washington Post, “People are open and trusting. They teach you how to be compassionate, how to treat strangers, how to appreciate simple pleasures, how to accept that reality of having no control over life...You have to defer to the national attitude of ‘que sera sera,’ which renders clocks and frowns useless. If you don’t do that, you’ll go crazy waiting for late buses, slow waitresses and cashiers using calculators for first grade level arithmetic.”

Joe Cummings wrote in the Lonely Planet guide for Thailand: “the kingdom was never externally controlled long enough to dampen the Thai’s serious individualism. Although the Thais are often depicted as fun-loving, happy-go-lucky folk (which they often are), they are also very strong-minded and have struggled for centuries to preserve their independence of spirit. This is not to say that Thailand has not experienced any western influence. Like other Asian countries it has both suffered and benefitted from contact with foreign cultures. But the ever-changing spirit of Thai culture has remained dominant, even in modern city life.”

Thais have a reputation for looking out for others first, especially foreign tourists, and themselves second. This was born after the tsunami when Thais in the tourism business made sure their customers were happy when they obviously had other things on their mind, like the fate of missing friends of relatives and the fact their businesses were in ruins.

See Society

Thai-ness

Thainess is a term that is thrown in Thailand a lot to describe the Thai people. It has been described as the ability to adhere to the Thai ideal of speaking Thai well, abiding by Thai customs and norms such as avoiding confrontation, being discreet, dressing modesty, expressing oneself quiety and communicating in subtle, indirect ways rather that loud, obvious and direct ones. Farang (foreigners) are often looked down and even pitied for lacking Thainess.

Rene-Philippe Dubout wrote on doingbusinessthailand.com: “Thainess is a multi faceted concept that does not fit in one simple definition. The closest I could come from a definition would be to say: Firstly Thainess is the idea of a common collective identity which is based on the three common elements that is to say, Thai language, Buddhist religion, and Monarchy which all Thai people share. Secondly it is a concept that provides the foundations for social harmony and the respect of order in a patriarchal, hierarchical society where people display cool heads, warm hearts, gratitude and public deference. Thirdly, Thainess is this little something that makes Thai people who they are. While the first two elements are easy to grasp the last one is something that can never be truly explained or understood without actually living and experiencing it. You can learn Thai language but you cannot learn Thainess, it is instinctive. [Source: Rene-Philippe Dubout, http://www.doingbusinessthailand.com ]

On key concepts and values in Thai Culture the Communicaid Group relates: “1) Family – As the cornerstone of Thai society, family is given great value and importance. Thai families are close and several generations may live in the same house, with the oldest male being the head of the household. The power structure of the family is mirrored in the organisational environment. Advice from elders is expected to be followed without question although this is becoming less true with time and modernisation. 2) Indirect Communication – Being subtle and indirect is a valued characteristic in Thai culture. In communication, a considerable part of the information lies in the underlying messages or in the non-verbal cues. Not to lose face, Thai people avoid direct confrontations and criticism, if given at all, is delivered indirectly. 3) Hospitality – The essence of Thai people’s nature, hospitality is visible in both social and professional contexts. Thai people will welcome guests into their houses and show their generosity by offering anything they might have. Service is highly valued and given with a sense of modesty. [Source: Communicaid Group]

One U.S. diplomat told National Geographic, "Except for a few dialects, they all speak the same language, they revere the king and they are proud of their history. There is a settled feeling here that has contributed to their success.”

Status, Rank and Language in Thailand

According to the blog Thai World View: “Thai society is very hierarchal and stratified. In the Thai language many words are used to to say "I" or "YOU". The ways of saying "I" or "YOU" depends on your status, on the status of the person in front of you. That is why when Thais meet people for the first time, they always ask about age, family, job and wages: they do to size up your status and rank and thus know how to address you and which words to use when talking to you. Rank and status also explains why many Thais wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts and even ties instead of shorts and T-shirts when the weather is so hot. That is because appearance is important in Thai society as it can reveal the status of the person. Conversely Thais often wonder why foreign tourists dress in such shabby or skimpy clothes when they can afford much better ones. [Source: Thai World View

“Here are the most common words to say "I" or "YOU". Their use depends on the interlocutor. 1) "CHAN" means "I" with family, wife, husband. "THEU" means "YOU" with family, wife, husband. 2) "PHOM" means "I" (masculine) with friends, person of higher status. 3) "DICHAN" means "I" (feminine) with friends, person of higher status. 4) "KHUN" means "YOU" with friends, person of higher status. 5) "THAN" means "YOU" with person of really higher status. 6) "RAO" means "I" (feminine) among the young generations. 7) "KAE" means "YOU" with close friends, servants, parents to children or elders to youth. 8) "KHA PHRA PHUTA CHAO" means "YOU" when talking to the King. 9) "KU" means "I" used by person of really lower status. 10) "MEUNG" means "YOU" used by person of really lower status. Foreigners shouldn’t use the two last words as they are not polite at all. If foreigners use them with a Thai people, they loose a friend forever. There is also many different words when talking with sons of the king, daughters of the king. Different words for five generations. Since King Rama V, people lost their royal ranking status after five generations. [Ibid]

The end of the sentence is also very important. When speaking with unknown persons, end of sentence particle shall be used to show politeness. With closed friends it is not necessary at all. Like words to say "I" or "YOU" there is many end of sentence particles. Here are the most common. 1) "KHRAP" is used by masculine person with person of same status. is used by men to say hello. 2) "KHRAPHOM" is used by masculine person with person of higher status. 3) "KHA" used by feminine person with persons of all status for affirmative sentences. is used by ladies to say hello. 4) "KHA" used by feminine person with persons of all status for interrogative sentences. Thai society is an image of Thai family. Relations elder-younger are part of Thai society. The following example shows the relationship between the village chief and the villagers. 1) The village chief is called "PHO BAAN" or (father - house); 2) The villagers are called "LOOK BAAN" or (children - house). [Ibid]

Vocabulary used when speaking with a monk is not the same as everyday vocabulary. Monks deserve respect. Depending on the age of the monk different words are used when talking to a monk. 1) "LUANG PHI" means "YOU" with a monk that could be a brother. 2) "LUANG PHO" means "YOU" with a monk that could be a father. 3) "LUANG PU" means "YOU" with an old renowned monk. 4) "LUANG TA" ( often a man that did become a monk when he was quite old ) is less respectful that "LUANG PHO". 5) "LUANG THERA" is a Thai word used for a man being a monk for 10 years. [Ibid]

Thailand: The Land of Smiles

Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles.” While smiles are prevalent and often a sign of happiness and good will that is not whole story (See Below). According to Culture Shock! Thailand : In the west, a smile is about something and generally an expression of amusement, In Thailand a smile is a natural part of life, sometimes serving social functions as well.

Thais have traditionally avoided confrontation. Instead they have valued cool-headedness, placidity and soft words. Feelings are not expressed directly. Anger is frowned upon. Thais rarely loose their temper even when the heat is unbearable., the air is unbreathable and traffic is grim. They are not even big on honking horns.

Thais are known for their compassion and gentleness, simple hospitality, fun-loving, open-mindedness, laid-bank attitude and friendliness. Sabai (“being comfortable”), mai pen rai (“don’t worry, be happy”) are guiding principals. Thais greatly value "sanuk," the idea of having a good time for it's own sake. This is manifested in the open attitude toward sex and drugs. Service industries thrive in Thailand perhaps because mixing pleasure with business is seen as the best way to get things done.

Sanuk and Tolerance in Thailand

The concept of sanuk (“fun”) is based on the idea that activities that are otherwise dull and monotonous should be spiced up with a little playfulness. The idea may be rooted on the drudgery of rice field work and agricultural chores that were livened up with songs, jokes, teasing and gossip.

Jamie James wrote in Conde Nast Traveler: Thais are the lotus-eaters of Southeast Asia, people who love nothing more than a good time. They have a word for it: sanuk. Typically, sanuk involves getting together with your buddies and drinking whiskey and cola, or eating piles of fried snacks and sweets at a sidewalk café, or going to the movies. A popular sanuk among the young people in Bangkok is riding up and down the escalators, flirting and giggling, at one of the city's massive middle-class malls. [Source: Jamie James, Conde Nast Traveler, March 2006]

“The Thais' remarkable tolerance derives directly from Theravada Buddhism, which permeates every aspect of life in the country. Buddhism teaches that all earthly things are an illusion and pretty much omits the concept of sin (except with respect to killing). As a result, it takes a lot in the way of private behavior to get Thais riled up. For example, gay people live more openly here than in most Asian countries. There is also a large, visible transgender community, which has gained wide (though not exactly universal) acceptance; The Iron Ladies , a stand-up-and-cheer movie about a championship tranny/gay volleyball team and its lesbian coach, released in 2000, is the second-highest-grossing Thai film ever.”

Others say Thai are guilty of thumbing their noses at Theravada Buddhism or at least ignoring its moral precepts. Vanchai Ariyabuddhiphongs, a management professor at Bangkok University who has studied the gambling issue, told the Los Angeles Times: "Thai people are Buddhists, which means they're supposed to observe the five precepts," including abstaining from alcohol and sexual misconduct. "But they drink a lot, gamble, frequent brothels. Come to Bangkok, there are massage parlors all over, which are brothels in disguise.”

Thai Work Ethic and Making Work Fun

A farmer’s saying goes: “Our backs are to the sky, our faces to the ground...forever.” But at the same time the Thai word ngan means both “work” and “party.” The two terms are necessarily contradictory. It has been said the best functioning offices in Bangkok are ones in which work is treated like a social activity and people are motivated by friendly competitions that makes otherwise dreary work interesting. Some managers say this strategy works better than strictly offering economic incentives.

One person wrote in a forum on thaivisa.com: “There has been some heated discusson of whether Thai people are "hard working" or not. Of course we all know that this is highly variable from person to person and that every culture has some hard working motivated people and some who enjoy life in other ways. I'm wanting to know if people think that the work ethic is part of the Thai culture. By "work ethic" I mean the idea that it is good or virtuous to work hard or diligently to obtain a goal and also that goals requiring work are more noble than those that do not. [Source: thaivisa.com +]

“Personally, I think that Thais see hard work as an indication of a sort of failure or lack of ability. I think that Thais believe that a successful or capably person does not have to work hard and is a sign of their superiourity. The higher you are in the social structure the less work you need to do. Based on my five years in Thailand and work with a Thai company as R&D Staff, I observed that many of our workers were in shape to work hard and willing to be trained and eager to learn something more but the majority were not able to handle responsibility...They prefer not to learn more because the more you learn, the more you know, the more you know then the more work in your job. They probably hate this. They just would like to work, go home and enjoy their life even if they don’t have much money in their hand. "Easy go lucky." Of course some workers are very smart: since they get a small wage they work only based on that. Our company offered free basic AUTOCAD training but only one worker eager to learn and stay without any overtime pay because the training was scheduled after work. It was an opportunity to learn and upgrade oneself but no one was interested.” +

Another person wrote in the forum on thaivisa.com: “I've had 25 years experience with Thais as employees, as friends, and as co-workers. My impression is that they do have a work ethic, and do consider working hard as a positive trait. However, the Thai work ethic unlike its western counterpart expects work to be fun and does not apply in situations where working hard equals misery. Thais are quite creative at finding ways to make work fun wherever possible, and a smart employer will understand and facilitate this. Also, Thais work best together and do not like to be alone; again, a smart employer will accept this and allow for adjustments to workplans accordingly. Lastly, the work ethic coexits with a number of other ethics of equal or greater importance to Thais...such as fitting in with the group, not losing face, and personal loyalties. As a supervisor I found it important to know the group dynamic and work with it rather than ignoring it or trying to butt up against it. It was also crucial to nurture a personal bond with staff. A sense of personal loyalty to me based on our relationship led them to work very, very hard under difficult and sometiomes dangerous conditions. Work ethic alone wouldn't have done that. Thais view their jobs in a personal manner. Its not just what you are supposed to do, but who you are doing it for and how you feel about them that determines the level of effort. +

“The responsibility thing has to do not with responsibility as we understand it but with concerns for group harmony, not antagonizing others by seeming to try to stand out, and not acting above one's station. Position in Thai society is made up of a lot more than job title...it also involves age, family, etc. To ask someone to take on a position that puts them above someone older or higher social status than they puts them in a very awkward bind. Lastly, Thai society is built around rote rules and people know exactly what they can expect when they act according to them, liek a well choreographed ballet. Asking someone to take on something unfamiliar or new -- or inconsistent with their established place in the group -- puts them in a risky position where they aren't sure what will happen. I found that if one understands all this and talks supportively and empatheticaly with Thais about how they feel, these concerns can be expressed and addressed together. Last but very important: Thai culture does not distinguish between " professional" and " personal"; it is all personal and when foreign bosses or coworkers attempt to disregard the personal element it is seen as cold and unkind. (Same in the Philippines). They expect to be seen as whole people and treated as such, and to have their personal concerns given as much weight as purely work-related concerns. Of course, like any comment on any culture, these are generalizations and individuals within the culture will vary enormously. And the " elite" of the country are a whole nother ballgame entirely. Fortunately they aren't typical of most Thais. +

Kreng Jai

According to the blog Thaize: Kreng jai (also written as krengjai) is a distinctly Thai trait that can bewilder visitors to Thailand. So what is kreng jai? The direct translation is often given as ‘awe heart‘ or ‘deferential heart‘ and it is usually interpreted as consideration, but that is too simplistic because kreng jai is also a feeling. Kreng jai is being aware of other people’s feelings and showing politeness, respect and consideration towards them. It is also tied in with the Thai concept of not wanting to lose face; displaying kreng jai is one way in which one person can help another save face. It’s something that can’t be summed up in one word and as with may aspects of Thai life, there are social rules and standards that determine how and when kreng jai is displayed. [Source: Thaizer March 15, 2008]

From a young age, Thai children are encouraged to kreng jai. By being considerate to their parents and elders and acting in a way that pleases them, the Thai child is showing kreng jai. Beyond the family unit, the Thai child is also encouraged to kreng jai other elders and people in positions of responsibility such as teachers, policemen and so on. Kreng jai remains a strong influence into adult life and along with jai yen, it is a trait much admired. Naturally, there are exceptions to every rule, but on the surface at least, most Thai people will kreng jai those who deserve it.

This is all well and good, but how does the whole business of kreng jai affect the average tourist visiting Thailand? The most obvious one that I’ve noticed is that Thai people will often automatically kreng jai older visitors. If you are in your senior years and visiting Thailand, don’t be surprised to find that Thai people are particularly concerned about your welfare. In Thai society, the elderly are treated in high regard and this extends to foreign tourists too.

The concept of kreng jai can also be frustrating for many tourists because it doesn’t encourage Thai people to express exactly what they think. Instead, they may give you the answer that they think you want to hear or when you ask a question, you may get the enigmatic response, ‘up to you’. This can be incredibly frustrating and no matter how long I live here, it is something which my Western mindset can find difficult to reconcile. And it isn’t just me, because Thai friends say it sometimes frustrates them too! The key is to try not to show your frustration; jai yen yen na.

Jai Yen(Cool Heart) and Not Getting Angry in Public

According to blog thailandmusings:“Jai yen literally means ‘cool heart‘. In a country that’s 95 percent Theravada Buddhist, jai yen is the preferred approach to any situation. If a cop pulls you over and sticks you for a bribe, jai yen dictates that you pay it to avoid an unpleasant scene. If someone cuts you off in traffic, you shrug your shoulders and suppress your natural urge to run the guy into a ditch. Jai yen. For Buddhists, an emotionally moderate, non-confrontational approach to life will bring its reward when you are reborn. Practice jai yen, and you may come back as a demi-god; get a little hot under the collar and you may find your new, single-celled self bobbing on the surface of a sewage treatment plant in Bang Saphan. [Source: thaivisa.com. September 12, 2010]

One of the defining qualities of Thai people is the fact that they rarely show strong emotion in public. You’ll find that it takes quite a lot to make a Thai lose his/her temper and if they do it is a very serious matter. If you’ve done something to make a Thai person lose their temper with you I suggest you immediately attempt to either diffuse the situation or remove yourself from the situation. To a Thai losing your temper, or rather outwardly showing any display of anger, is considered crude and extremely bad manners. I can personally attest that some of the worst arguments Golf and I have had were not for things considered typical in the west, but rather came from situations where I lost my temper in public. By not remaining jai yen I caused myself loss of face and by extension she experienced loss of face as well.

This frame of mind is sometimes difficult for westerners because open displays of anger are viewed very differently in the west. Open confrontation is not only accepted, but can be considered desirable in some situations. In the west people who conceal their emotions are often considered underhanded or somehow not to be trusted. We base our readings of people on how they react in various situations. A cold and detached demeanor gives us nothing to “read” a person by and thus leads to a perception that the person has something to hide, distrust and a tendency to avoid that person.

As an example, the typical response of a westerner to poor service or poor performance would be to confront the offending person and look for some type of correction. The feeling would be that not only will we have the situation corrected for ourselves, but would hopefully prevent future occurrences of the same problem. Not so for a Thai person in the same situation. The likely Thai response to any mistake or perceived problem is not a confrontation, but rather to display jai yen and shrug off the problem or annoyance. A common response to problems in Thailand is mai bpen rai which literally means “not-exist-anything” or never mind, it doesn’t matter. This avoids any need to display anger or confrontation and maintains face for all involved.

So, when in Thailand do as the Thai’s and jai yen yen, calm down please. Take it easy and don’t let things that are beyond your control get you upset. You’ll be viewed in a much more positive light by the Thai’s and I’ll bet you’ll be happier too. After just a short time you’ll find that it is much less stressful to let things slide a bit and relax over the little things in your life. Rod tid mak (traffic very bad)…mai bpen rai. Appointment/meeting/dinner/train late….mai bpen rai. Focus on the things you have control over and let the rest take care of itself. You’ll be much more relaxed and happy in the long run.

Mai Pen Rai (“No Worries”) and Straying Calm

According to the blog American Expat in Chiang Mai: In Thailand, it is impolite to get angry and loud about a problem. This is simply not done in Thailand, and an expat living here must learn the “Mai Pen Rai attitude” or else he will have a lot of problems. Mai Pen Rai is ultimately a philosophy of life: Bend with the wind, like a bamboo tree. And above all, keep smiling. The way to say this phrase is My (mai) – Pen – Rye (rhymes with “eye”),

Technically, Mai Pen Rai translates as “It’s nothing.” Truer definitions could be: “Never mind.” “It’s Cool.” “Don’t get mad, get glad.” “Take it easy.” “No worries.” “Oh well, I can’t do anything about it.” Also, if you say thank you in Thai language to a Thai, they are likely to respond with a Mai Pen Rai.

In your travels in Thailand, you are likely to see some kind of vehicle accident on the road (bad driving habits are a pretty big problem in this little Kingdom). Unlike in the West, you will not hear anyone screaming or yelling with a cop trying to calm things down. Instead, you are likely to see them talking in a very calm voice, with smiles and maybe even laughing with one another. Mai Pen Rai. It is the Thai belief that instead of frowning and making a fuss over what happened, they accept the mishap and whatever that has befallen them. Even if what happened may create a heavy burden on them, it is their thinking that it is better to just say Mai Pen Rai.

This is how Thais cope with the problems of life. If their bus breaks down and everybody has to get out and walk, Mai Pen Rai. It’s a big difference from what you would hear in a big American city if that happened. It is one of the Thai traits I truly admire, but it takes a bit getting used to for the newly arrived Western expat.

When your lunch noodles delivered by the Thai waitress is cold, it is better to first smile and then say Mai Pen Rai. Be very careful, because anger or making fuss about the situation is not accepted in Thailand. If you must have hot noodles, you have learn to say it in a way that is extremely nice, and with a big smile. That is how you get along in Thailand.

If you miss your flight, even if it is not your fault, Mai Pen Rai If you lose money in the stock market, Mai Pen Rai. Thais see things that happen to us in a very positive manner. And if an expat can adopt this attitude as well, they are bound to live happier and longer. If there is any phrase in the Thai language that best describes living in Thailand, it is Mai Pen Rai.

Seriousness of Thai Smiles

According to the blog American Expat in Chiang Mai: “You may laugh or smile at this report, but in Thailand, smiles are deadly serious in the Land of Smiles, and new expats need to start getting the messages quickly. In America, a smile may not be so important. Americans smile when they are very happy, and seldom smile for any other reason. In Thailand, the Land of Smiles, a smile is an extremely important form of communication. A smile has much more meaning than in the West, and it takes some time for one to be able to interpret them. In this report, I will try to give visitors and new expats some things to be aware of about Thai smiles, and a deeper glimpse into the deep seated customs of the Kingdom. [Source: American Expat in Chiang Mai , February 2, 2012]

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles because as you meet Thai people, you see a Thai smile wherever you go. Thais smile when they are happy, they also smile when they are feeling a variety of negative emotions such as embarrassment, regret, confusion and even anger. Understanding that Thais place a high value on avoiding conflict and maintaining social harmony and you’ll begin to understand the reason why Thai’s smile even in negative situations.

Know that it is important for the farang to relax and smile a lot. While Thailand has a reputation as the Land of Smiles, Thai people believe Western people never smile. A person that smiles often or most ofl the time is highly regarded in Thailand. You have to constantly remind yourself to do this, as it is probably not natural for you to do this.

When there is a disagreement, and the Thai does not want to have an argument about it (which is most of the time), you are likely to see the “Whatever you say” smile. This one is fairly easy to spot, and it means you should smile back to them and step away from the problem. Avoid conflict. You will not win.

The “I’m so embarrassed I want to disappear” smile – This smile will often appear as the result of a foreigners insulting tirade following the “I’m sorry for the mistake” smile. Of course it only serves to further enrage the farang and if they somehow don’t realize what is happening and calm down can be followed by the “I’m so mad I can break your neck” smile. This is not a good position for the farang, and can actually be dangerous. If this happens, it is best for the farang to leave the situation quickly. Understand that if the line is crossed to where the Thai will become enraged, you can expect he will get immediate support from all other Thais in the area. The farang will be on the losing end.

Different Kinds of Thai Smiles

Different kinds of Thai smiles, according to American Expat in Chiang Mai, include: 1) The “Greeting” smile – This will have a polite smile at you when they want to greet you instead of saying hello. When you see a pretty girl smile at you, it does not always mean that she is interested in you but sometimes she just wants to say hello. 2) The “Nervous” smile – When Thais become nervous, this smile is to make them feel better. 3) The “Encouraging” smile – When you did something silly or made a mistake and you see Thai people smile or even laugh, don’t get angry. Sometimes they did not mean to make fun at you, they just try to make you feel better or encourage you to forget that embarrassing situation. [Source: American Expat in Chiang Mai , February 2, 2012]

The “I’m sorry for the mistake” smile – This is commonly seen in restaurants or shops where a frustrated tourist may complain about the order only to get a smile in return from the server. Often this will make the customer more frustrated and angry as their perception is the server finds their frustration funny when really the Thai person has intended to apologize with their smile. Don’t expect the Thai server to apologize with words. That’s a Western Concept. The proper way for the frustrated farang customer to handle this situation is for the customer to smile, and say Mai Pen Rai (It’s OK, it does not matter). The problem may not get fixed, but no one should get stressed about it. The Thai feels guilty for the mistake, and in a sense is seeking your forgiveness.

Another very common smile is the “I don’t understand what you’re talking about” smile. Thais are not of the character to often admit they don’t understand you. Thais do not want to lose face in any way. So when you ask for something specific in a shop, you could get this smile when they simply don’t understand you. It is important for a farang to interpret this smile and not get frustrated. The farang should simply smile back, and repeat the request with easier words spoken slowly. Related to this is the “I don’t know what to say” smile, when the Thai person does not have the English skills to reply to the request.

It is said the Eskimos have dozens of words for snow. Well the Thais have may have many expressions for kinds of smile. Here are some (Thai for smile is “yim): 1) ‘Yim thang nam taa: I’m so happy I’m crying smile. 2) ‘Yim thak thaai’: Polite smile for someone you barely know. 3) ‘Yim cheun chom’: The admiring/admiration smile. 4) ‘Fuen Yim’: The rigid smile, furthermore known as the “I should laugh at the joke although it’s not funny” Smile. 5) ‘Yim mee lessanai’: Masking something immoral in your mind Smile. 6) ‘Yim yaw’: The mockery or; told you so smile. 7) ‘Yim yae-yae’: I know things look pretty bad, but there is no point in crying over spilt milk; smile. 8) ‘Yim sao’: The sad smile. 9) ‘Yim haeng’: The dry smile. “I know I owe you money, but I don’t have it” smile. 10) ‘Yim thak thaan’: I disagree with you smile. Also known as the: You can go ahead and propose it but your idea’s no good” smile. 11) ‘Yim cheua-cheuan’: I am the winner smile, usually given to a losing competitor. 12) ‘Yim soo’: smiling in the face of an impossible struggle smile. 13) ‘Yim mai awk’: The I’m trying to smile but can’t smile Smile.

Pattaya Laughing Contest

In the midst of a period of political turmoil in Thailand in 2008, the Asia News Network reported: “When political tension was brewing in Bangkok over Thailand’s prime minister’s comment on a possible military intervention in the country, some people in Pattaya, a Thai beach resort city, were laughing. They were rolling on the floor, dancing all around, making faces and indulging in raucous antics. Their laughter was so infectious, even a crowd of about 200 that had gathered on the ground floor of the Royal Garden Plaza could not keep themselves from going with the flow. As a result the entire floor of the shopping complex was echoing with sounds of ‘ha-ha’ and ‘he-he’. "The intensity of her laughter measured 110 decibels." [Source: Asia News Network, July 28, 2008]

This happened at the finals of Ripley’s International Laughing Contest held on July 5 in Pattaya. The competition, the first of its kind held in Thailand, was organised by Ripley’s World of Entertainment Pattaya. A total of 23 contestants from all over the world—Thailand, Liberia, England, Sweden, Czech Republic, Israel, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Holland, and the US—had participated in the competition. All of them had one goal: to laugh their way to a 100,000 -baht (US$2,970) prize money.

According to Somporn Saksuetrong, general manager of Ripley’s World Pattaya, the criteria for winning the competition was the same as that laid out by Ripley’s world headquarters in the US. “The winners will be determined based on logarithmic unit of sound intensity in decibels, duration of time they laughed, style and quality of laughter and the infectiousness of the laugh,” he said. To lay hands on the cash prize, one contestant laughed continuously for 12 and half minutes. Another laughed for almost 11 and half minutes and another for 10 minutes. All of the contestants, clad in unique national costumes, climbed on stage and laughed unabated. "I think she will die when she stops laughing. She laughed for over nine minutes and she is still laughing. It is unbelievable!" a foreign audience said referring to one of the participants.

During the two-hour-long programme, the participants also delivered unique packages of laughter. A Liberian spilled his African tribal laugh; an Englishman his aristocratic laugh; a Swedish his serious laugh; and Thais their carefree laugh. In the end, it was Jattarat Wongsomboon of Thailand who ‘out-laughed’ all of them. The 55-year-old teacher laughed nonstop for 12.26 minutes and took home 100,000 baht. The intensity of her laughter measured 110 decibels. Kowit Sripong, 32, first runner-up , went home with 10,000-baht ($297). He spent 11.26 minutes laughing onstage and his laughter hit 112.2 decibels. He also bagged the Outstanding National Costume Award, which included a 5,000 baht ($148) cash prize.

Winners were also awarded with the Ripley’s privilege gold card entitling them to free entrance to Ripley’s Museums around the world for a year. If you can also laugh for a prolonged period of time—without cracking jokes, making humorous verbal attacks or making fun of people—try your luck next time. Ripley’s World of Entertainment Pattaya will host the event again next year.

In 1998 housewife Kawachart Thongchure won $280 and an appearance in a syndicated cartoon in the first laugh contest in Pattaya with giggle of 9 minutes and 22 seconds.

Thai Personality Traits and the Thai Value Survey

On Thai values, Suntaree Komin wrote in the Psychology of the Thai People: “Unlike the Americans whose top values tend to focus on Self-actualization, ambition and achievement, down-playing such values of Self-control and Polite, the Thai, after pricing “ego” and “grateful relationship”, place high value on a group of ‘other-directed’ social interaction values—all added up to project a picture of smooth, kind, pleasant, no-conflict interpersonal interactions, in short, the “surface harmony” as observed by many. This orientation is characterized by the preference for a non-assertive, polite and humble type of personality (expressed through appearance, manners, and interpersonal approach), as well as the preference for a relaxed, and pleasant interaction which accounts for the “smiling” and “friendly” aspects of the Thai people.[Source: Suntaree Komin, the Psychology of the Thai People: Values and Behavioral Patterns, National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), Bangkok 1991]

The group of ‘other-directed’ social interaction values, which we call “social smoothing” values, is another interesting finding of the Thai Value Survey. They are projected by the following values, listed according to their rank order of importance: 1) Caring and considerate; 2) Kind and helpful; 3) Responsive to situations and opportunities; 4) Self-controlled, tolerant-restrained; 5) Polite and humble; 6) Calm and cautious; 7) Contended; 8) Social relation

The findings of this group are significant for three reasons: 1) Five out of the above eight interpersonal relationship related values emerged on the Thai value list, but not on the American value list. They are: Caring and considerate; Responsive to situations and opportunities; Calm and cautious; Contended; and, Social relation. The other three are more or less comparable with the American corresponding values, with slightly different shades of meanings. 2) Not only that some of the “social smoothing” values are not found in the American value list, they have consistently secured their significantly high rankings in the Thai value system. The first two values—Caring and considerate, and Responsive to situations and opportunities—have never slipped from the high value group. And the whole group of “social smoothing” values have consistently shown to have very few variations across groups over time. Almost no significant differences were found when considering different backgrounds, such as sex, different educational levels, different occupations, poor and rich, politically conservative and radical, and, religious and non-religious. This finding is exciting, because it suggests that, more than anything else, the consistency across groups and over time, is due to the uniform perception from the Thai of all walks of life, and that these values are deeply internalized and are actively functional in the everyday life of the Thai. And the Thai are intuitively keen in observing and practicing these subtle social rules.

3) The finding is also significant, in that it helps to shed some light on the often-cited Buddhist influence in shaping certain Thai characteristic traits, such as Jai yen (calm, easy-going, not easily excited), May pen rai (contented, nothing really matters or Arai koa dai), and Arom dii (ever-smiling, even-tempered, not extreme emotional expression). Such characteristics have often been explained by the Buddhist teaching of the “Middle Path”, “Detachment”, “Equanimity”, and extinction of desires and emotions. However, the three values which are related to such characteristics were not found to be related significantly with religion. These three values are Calm and cautious, Contented, and Self-controlled, tolerant-restrained. And the correlations with the proven religious value indicator—Religious and spiritual life—are, +.00, +.09, and +.05, respectively, which are very low. Neither are they significantly different in the 1981 data, when Southern Thai-Buddhists and Thai-Muslims were significantly differentiated by their different degree of tenaciousness to the religious value of religious and spiritual life. In fact, there were no significant differences found for the whole group of “social smoothing” values between the Thai-Buddhists and Thai-Muslims. This suggests a disproof of the over-claimed religious influence of Buddhism over these characteristic traits of the Thai.

Social Smoothing Among Thais

What constitute the core and essence of this group of “social smoothing” values? As a group, each of these values reflects certain aspect of interpersonal interaction traits or goal. Among them, the core value rests on the value of Caring and considerate...an important means to maintain or preserve one another’s feelings and ego (Raksa nam jai kan). [Source: Suntaree Komin, The Psychology of the Thai People ]

The cognition of the Thai social interaction projected by the group of “social smoothing” values, is as follows: that at all time, one shall be careful not to hurt another person’s feelings (“ego”), for example, not to criticize as well as not to reject another person’s kindness or good intention, even though it is contrary to one’s own feelings. The fact that one disagrees with another person’s opinion or is not convenient or comfortable to accept another person’s kindness, etc., does not entitle him/her to hurt the other’s “ego”. On the contrary, by sacrificing a bit of one’s inconvenience or one’s urge to disagree, one would not hurt the other person, and the resulting atmosphere is much more pleasant, soothing to both parties as well as to everybody. There is nothing to lose, because there are chances where he/she can voice his different opinions at other time and space, and still save one another’s “ego” by avoiding face-to-face confrontation.

Therefore, being flexible (Responsive to situations and opportunities) in not doggedly forcing and asserting one’s own desire at times of potential differences and conflicts, is very important. Besides, showing of Nam jai (literally meaning ‘water from the heart’, kindness, considerateness, and sincere concerns) in being Kind and helpful, is something to give out without any expectation in return. The Thai is not calculative in the showing of kindness and help. This is why it has been overtly observed by foreigners that Thai interactions are usually smooth, pleasant, and “often accompanied by genuine kindness and an interest in the well-being of the other.”

Besides showing positive gestures of sincere kindness and concerns, in order for interaction to go smoothly, it also requires on the part of interactors, such characteristic traits of having certain degree of Self control, be Tolerant and restrained, and to be Polite and humble. This polite and humble “front” or polite and humble approach is very important for the Thai, since it soothes one another’s “ego”. This explains why most studies of Thai personality show very low percentage (less than 1 percent) of aggressive personality. It naturally follows that showing of one’s aggressiveness and superiority, even overt self-confidence, more often than not, elicits only negative perception of Man sai (feeling indicating a mixture of jealousy and disgust) from the interactor and audience in general. Frequently, this term is used to comment about that person behind his back. Time and again has proved that a successful personality in the Thai cultural context, is often one of competence and substance, but most important of all, has to have a soft and polite appearance, presentation and approach—as best illustrated in the Thai phrase of Orn nork khaeng nai which literally means “soft outward, firm or had inside”. This characteristic is even more important in the government sector than in the private sector.

A number of Western education highly competent and superiority projected personalities, known for their straightforwardness (Khit yangai kop hood yang nun, meaning ‘Speak what one thinks’) and integrity in standing-up for what they believe, cannot stay long in the organization, after receiving only indirect, slow and non-cooperative performances for a while. Even if they stay, the future of attaining the higher position will be blocked. Such is the case of Mr. Amaret Sila-orn, the highly capable former Vice President of the Siam Cement Company of Thailand, who resigned from his deputy position after being blocked from becoming the chairmanship three times.

Another case is the well-known public figure Dr. Somkiat Ornvimon—the Western educated Television anchorman and former AFS student—who started the creative revolution of the Thai television a few years ago, has learned it the hard way that he was too assertive, thus too aggressive, for the Thai taste. Although well admired by the public for his creativity, he has evidently created too many enemies for his own good, which has forced him to move from one TV station to another.

Even among the academic circle, which is supposed to be more liberal, again, there are many cases of highly competent, no-nonsense, more outspoken, more principled and achievement oriented intellectuals, who are often blocked from higher-up positions. Besides, highly achievement oriented intellectuals, are by nature much less power and politics oriented. Therefore, coupled with office politics, it is not surprising to find some highly political academic departments, run by someone who are much less qualified than their subordinates.

For interactions to be smoothly processed and void of overt conflicts, such characteristics of being Calm and cautious—Jai yen, the ability to calm oneself as well as calmly control situations by taking a slow, calm and careful step—is very important. This value is activated when one faces problems or conflicts. And all these “social smoothing” values purport to maintain a good Social relation. These “social smoothing” values relatedly project a picture of smooth, kind, pleasant, no conflict, interpersonal interactions—in short, the surface harmony as observed by many. They are the necessary means to function successfully in Thai society. They are the essential “front” or the “presentations” or the “social cosmetics” of Thai interactions.

It is important to note that behind the smooth, pleasant, and polite interaction, is the respect for one another’s ego, dignity, and psychological integrity—the core concern of not to hurt others. It is the balance between the positive “ego” self on the one hand, and on the other hand, keeping the smooth and pleasant interactions as the means to preserve one another’s ego as well as an end in itself, from which the Thai derive pleasure and genuine enjoyment. It is this element of the positive value of the “ego” self that lies beneath the relaxed personality and the relaxed and Sanuk (fun) interactions, enjoying certain measure of independence by being one’s own master without disturbing others, ever-adjusting one’s equilibrium to environments, while strictly observing all those interpersonal interactional social rules. This is the core cognition behind the behavioural pattern of the everyday life social interactions of the Thai. And it is this value of smooth and pleasant interpersonal interaction that gives Thai people the image of being very “friendly” people, and Thailand, the “Land of smile”.

Social Interaction and the Suppression of Emotion Expression

The issue of restraint from expressing negative emotions is vital for a society that highly values smooth interpersonal interactions. In fact, the degree of emotional expression can clearly differentiate between the more direct, forceful, and self-assertive American interactional pattern, and the indirect, non-assertive, less-opinionated but pleasant interactional behavioural pattern of the Thai. Only the positive feelings and emotions are expressed. And together with the core value of Caring and considerate (Raksa nam jai kan), the result I the friendly, pleasant interpersonal interaction. It is not surprising that Gardiner’s research found 5 terms most descriptive of Thai nationality “friendly, peace-loving, polite, kind, and gentle.” However, this apparent smiling façade should not mean that the Thai are emotionless or void of negative emotion. In fact, they can get very personal and emotional. This is why when probed beneath this veneer of serenity, Gardiner discovered that the anti-social feelings and aggressive emotions are felt, but they are considered “improper and unwise to accentuate and exaggerate such anti-social emotions and bring them into direct and open expression.” Such response is understandable, because otherwise the smooth interpersonal interaction will be disrupted.[Source: Suntaree Komin, The Psychology of the Thai People ]

Where does this restraining of emotions come from? From Buddhist teaching? Many have turned to Buddhism to find the foundations for the Thai tranquillity and restraint which related to such concepts as Jai yen (calm and cautious, or playing cool, not easily exited) and Choej (emotionless, indifferent, or non-active response, or non-involvement). For example, Ayal stated that the Buddhist value of Uppekkha (equanimity) find its expression in daily behaviour through its secular equivalent concept of Choej to mean non-involvement and keeping cool under all circumstances. , which explains the extreme tolerance the Thai show for deviant behaviour, non-conformity, failure to live up to expectations, and for practicing of a different religion, etc. However, the related characteristics of Calm, Contented, Self-retrained, and the Polite-humble self-effacement values have been proved by empirical data from the Value Study and from others to have no direct relationship to Buddhism per se. Thai-Buddhists, Thai-Muslims, and Thai-Christians, are not different in the socialization of these values.

What then are the reasons for the suppression of negative emotions if not related to Buddhism influence? This brings out a theoretical issue questioning two existing interpretations of Thai social behaviours. That is, whether these emotion related interpersonal interaction values, or the keeping of the smooth, pleasant, cool, polite and humble “front” values, are in fact motivated by ‘fear’ as suggested by Mulder’s power-oriented theoretical frame and Weerayudth Wichiarachote’s insecure affiliative personality conceptual frame. The results of the Thai Value Study revealed that the majority of the Thai (from 52 percent to 70 percent) when experienced dislike or dissatisfaction towards someone, would usually not express their feelings. But, the reason for not showing emotions was in fact due to the perception of the Thai with regards to “a person of strength”. The responses for this perception is very high, ranging from 53 percent to 90 percent, averaging around 68.15 percent, with 14.9 percent disagreed and 17 percent indicated it depended. As can be expected, it was found higher for the rural group than the urban, as the rural people are more likely to keep certain cultural traits and less likely to change. However, the difference is not great. The consistency of this view is shown by the very similar patterns of responses for the two national samples.

It is quite clear that the restraint from emotions in general and negative emotions in particular, is not out of ‘fear’ as hypothesized by Mulder and Weerayuth. Since these two theoretical conceptual frames proposed to explain Thai social system from the perspective of social interpersonal relationships with the core notion of ‘fear’ underlying them, it is appropriate and important for the present research to respond to the two theoretical propositions here.

Thai Social Relations, Weerayudh’s “Affiliative Personality” and Mulder’s “Moral-Amoral Power” Frame

Weerayudh Wichiarachote perceives Thai society as an “Affiliative society” (opposite to the Western “Achieving society”), in which people are highly dependent and find their security in dependence and patronage of the superiors. Thus, he postulates that the basic motivational drive of individual behaviour is to establish networks of personal relationships. His social relationship frame is mainly focused upon the Phooyai-phoonoi (superior-inferior) relationship, which in turn is narrowly based on the concept of Kreng jai as meaning “respectful fear”, emphasizing the fearful aspect. He therefore hypothesizes that the Thai, as representatives of his “Affiliative society”, are characterized by high need for affiliation, approval and acceptance, which generally result in such personality traits of “low self-confidence”, “low self-esteem”, highly dependent and emotionally insecure. [Source: Suntaree Komin, The Psychology of the Thai People ]

This too simplified conceptual frame is culturally biased, and the basic concept of Kreng jai is narrowly, if not incorrectly, perceived. When the concept of Kreng jai was narrowly interpreted as ‘fear’, the measuring instrument would be measuring the ‘fearful’ dimension. Rural children are less assertive and therefore proved ‘insecure’; or the fearful and suppressed children are likely to be also low on creativity. This is so because it is equated with the dimension of assertive characteristics following the Western personality scale, of which non-assertiveness is associated with negative personality traits of introversion and thus psychologically insecure. Limitations with regards to Weerayudh’s conceptual frame have to do with the cultural bias of the theoretical frame, the resulting measurement scale, and the narrow conception of Thai cultural value traits of Kreng jai, not to mention the generalizability from the sampled school children even if the conceptual frame is valid.

Mulder’s “Moral-amoral power” conceptual frame suffers some degree of validity. Since his model is based on the concept of Kreng jai and Kreng klua on the continuum of “fearfulness”, as narrowly used by Weerayudh, he therefore came up with the power based interaction conceptual frame which leads him to analyze that, behind the smooth, polite and smiling presentations, lies the insecurity and the feeling of fearfulness and distrust. To further support his theoretical frame, he cited as ‘consequences’ of his ‘third person power interaction’, such research reports and figures, to show that the Thai as being psychologically very insecure, finding their outlet in violence, prostitutions, drug addiction, and with the highest murder rate in the world, and so on. He cited report from Udomsilp Srisaengnam (1977) who reported that, from a survey of 130,000 young Thais, “23 percent of the Thai population between 25-30 years succumb to some form of neurosis”, and that “50 percent” of their sample of the married population in Bangkok Noi, “were not in good mental health”. To these, he concluded that “although these figures appear high when compared to the 10 percent rate of mental disturbance for the population of developing countries as a whole, as estimated by the W.H.O., it is not unlikely that Thai society culturally generates psychological tensions out if itself by placing its individuals behind and identifying them with their presentation, while suppressing their natural needs for self-expression and communication.” Unfortunately, these examples he cited to validate his model, have been found to be invalid. Some of the reasons include: as follows: (1) The 25 percent figure of 130,000Thai youth with neurosis is a misquote from an Asia Week article. 2) The 50 percent figure that married population in Bangkok Noi “were not in good mental health” was quoted and misinterpreted out of context from a study on investigate the effects of birth control on married couples.

Therefore, viewing Thai social interpersonal interaction from the perspective of both Mulder’s and Weerayudh’s conceptual propositions with the base of power and fear, might be quite limited, if not incorrect. Although the present researcher agrees with Mulder in the recognition of the existence and importance of the pleasantness of interactions or presentations as a Thai reality, the underlying reasons for such presentations are different.

Making Friends in Thailand

Cassandra James wrote on Yahoo Voices:“Making friends in Thailand can sometimes be difficult. Language barriers, cultural differences, shyness on the part of many Thai people and, if you live in Bangkok, the enormousness of the city can all have a part in whether or not you're able to make friends. Many farangs (westerners) come to Thailand to live every year, but very few of them make friends with Thais. Most farang men will have a Thai girlfriend but, other than that, they're unlikely to have other Thai friends. If you plan on spending time in Thailand, though, it is possible to make friends with Thais. Just follow these few short tips, and you too will soon have lots of Thai friends. [Source: Cassandra James, Yahoo Voices , Mar 12, 2009]

“Talk to People at Work - Many westerners make the mistake of not talking to many of their Thai co-workers. Thais are shy overall, so they're not likely to speak to you first. But, if you make an effort, you can actually make some very good Thai friends at work - even if they don't speak much English. I work at an international company, where everyone speaks quite good English. From my first day, I made a point of talking to everyone I came across from the top management to the maids in the kitchen. In a year of working there, I've made five very close Thai friends, and am friendly with at least 25 other people - friendly enough that I've gone out for lunch, dinner or drinks with them and, on a couple of occasions, on shopping trips. At the end of this month, I'm going on a 3-day weekend with one of my close Thai friends to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Thais like to include everyone in things so, if you even make a small effort, you'll find you're included very fast. [Ibid]

“Learn to Enjoy Thai Food - Thais love food, so most socializing revolves around food. At lunchtime, most Thai employees will eat together and many of them will go out for dinner together after work too. But, Thais are not very adventurous with food, and usually only eat Thai food. So, if you don't eat Thai food, you'll lose many opportunities to make friends as Thais won't invite you to dinner if they know you're not going to like the food. Overall, Thai food is not my first choice of cuisine, but I do like enough Thai food that I can eat out with anyone who asks me and find something on the menu I like. If you can cultivate a taste for Thai food, that will open up even more opportunities to make Thai friends. [Ibid]

“Learn to Enjoy Karaoke - Asians love karaoke, and Thais are no exception. At every work place, school or company, Thai employees will get together after work and go out to enjoy karaoke. Some companies will even hire a karaoke machine so employees can sing after work. This also always includes food, and often beer as well so, if you're invited out for karaoke, make sure you understand it's probably a whole evening of a thing. I hate singing karaoke, so have only ever done it once. I have however gone out for karaoke several times, I just make sure I enjoy a good meal and watch my Thai co-workers and friends, rather than singing myself. [Ibid]

“Accept Most Invitations - As a farang (westerner) in a foreign culture, you'll find you get invited to lots of sometimes strange events. I usually accept most of them and I've found myself in some very interesting places (Muay Thai kickboxing matches, Thai country music concerts, exclusive restaurants and hotels, huge Thai family birthday parties for ex-students, going to float banana boats on the river for Loy Krathong and more). I've also made some great Thai friends I've met at social events. Once you accept an invitation from a Thai, other Thais will start to ask you to do things with them. Thais love to have fun and especially love to laugh so, even if the event might not be to your taste, you'll probably find you'll have a great time and you'll learn something about a different culture too. [Ibid]

Learn To Relax and Laugh - Thais don't take anything very seriously so, in Thailand, you have to learn to relax a bit. If you can learn to relax though and crack a joke or too and especially if you learn to enjoy the moment, you'll find that Thais gravitate towards you naturally as they'll say you have a "Jai Dii" - a good heart. If you're thought to have a good heart in Thailand, you really do have it made when it comes to making friends. [Ibid]

Learn Some Thai - You don't have to be a talented linguist to learn a few Thai words and phrases. I've been in Thailand for six years and still only speak rudimentary Thai. I do speak enough though that I can have a simple conversation with most Thai people, and that way it's been easier for me to make Thai friends. [Ibid]

Thai’s Less Attractive Side

Thais have also been described as disorganized and possessing a stubborn streak. They also have a cruel streak manifested by their love for fighting sports and the mass consumption of newspapers filled with graphic pictures of murder and accident victims. For a time Thailand had the world’s highest murder rate. Anti-crime campaigns have left hundreds of people dead. The spy writer John Le Carre called them most the efficient killers in the world. In television shows and films, such as The Beach , Thailand is portrayed as a place where dreams are realized and then turn sour. One American called the Thais “the nicest people money can buy.”

Thais are not very direct. Circumlocution is the norm. Time and schedules are treated lightly. Mai pen rai (“It doesn’t matter”) is often used in the same way that Latin Americans use “manana” to dismiss away failing to show up for a meeting and other acts of being inconsiderate. Also, it not always clear how sincere and genuine people are in Thailand . In her book Mai Pen Rai Mean Never Mind, Carol Hollinger wrote, “You have to be God to distinguish truth from fiction in Thailand.”

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “Thais normally do not want to poke their nose into other people's business. From time to time in their daily work, most people witness corruption and malfeasance committed by superiors and colleagues. They do not report such wrongdoings to anyone. They all keep the secret. They think it is not their job to "blow the whistle" because it could backfire and cost them their job. Worse, they might be portrayed as a traitor who does not love their organisation or who is not part of the team. Little do they know they contribute to this collective mentality that is shaping Thailand into one of the most corrupt and wasteful countries in the world. The biggest problem in Thailand is that we put too much loyalty and faith in individuals without enough attention to principles. We are more willing to keep secrets to protect vested interests or reputations than to reveal wrongdoing to serve the broader public interest and to prevent the proliferation of unethical conduct. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, November 13, 2006]

Changes in the Thai Character and Cultural Mental Illness

It has been said that the influence of modern urban culture has given Thais a rougher, meaner sensibility. The younger generation is regarded as not as polite and gentle as their parents. Thailand certainly has it share of sleazy, greedy people running around. See Monks.

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “The easy-going life style which Thailand is famous for has long gone. At present we are a country of cynics who do not allow other people to excel at things they can do well. Every act seems treacherous these days. The usual Land of Smiles and Amazing Thailand is no more. Thais need to think outside the box and live on. A new Thai way of life that is more dynamic and multicultural will emerge incorporating traditional and new values. How can we stay free, as the word Thai means, if we remain static, narrow-minded, passive with agonised faces? [Source: y Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, January 4, 2010]

Fear of Insignificance. This newly coveted social value was brought about by the ascension of tycoon cum exhibitionist Thaksin Shinawatra, who adores success, extravaganza and significance. Willingness to pay for deceptive schemes to increase significance is rampaging in all strata. Self-adoring stories and biographies written by ghosted writers are popular among the well to do. Live events organised by professional groups are in trend to create illusions of past grandeur or never-have been experiences. One common theme runs through these books and live events - the claim of being humble and more full of metta [universal love] than others.

Latah is a mental disorder found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand characterized nonsense mimicking of others and trancelike behavior experienced after a sudden fright. [Source: Cultural Mental Illness: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by American Psychology Association.]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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